The University of Western Ontario in Canada (Western) recently had a PR crisis when it was revealed that their President and Chancellor, Amit Chakma, received nearly double his usual annual salary in 2014. Much of the difference was due to him receiving payment for his voluntary time off hours instead of using the vacation time.
In all, it amounted to over $440,000.
When the controversy hit, it hit big. Members of the University Senate, Board of Governors, and many students sat in on a huge public gathering filling nearly 500 seats. Chakma and other executive leaders took it on the chin, despite an apology from Chakma and him returning the payment overage immediately.
Clean up can be messy and one of the ways Western decided to do that was to hire outside advisors. In the process, they spent nearly $100,000 – two-thirds of which went to Toronto-based Navigator PR, a PR firm that claims to be Canada’s leading high-stakes public strategy and communications firm. Navigator was brought in to research, consult, and review what was happening on social media about the PR crisis.
The rest of the money spent by Western was split between two law firms that specialize in employment issues and law. One of those firms, Hicks Morley, a law firm with offices in London, has often done work for Western regarding employer issues. The other firm is Filion, Wakely, Thorup, and Angeletti, experts in employment and labor law.
At the end of the day, when a public entity is facing a PR nightmare, they need to be seen doing something about it. They need to be making moves to counteract the negative press and using a PR firm to help is a good move, even when they have their own PR department.
The “scandal” in this case started with the doubled salary of the leader. But when you dig deeper into what members of the faculty and students were really upset about, it was more about a perceived arrogance of the top-level leadership while doing their jobs.
No matter what other changes Western makes, the public outcry against such behavior will also need to be addressed, and solutions found that satisfy an outraged public.